Spring series is done - long live summer - its finally started raining!
The open meeting run by our friends in the Lasers went off very smoothly despite a rather shifty wind that kept promising to be stronger than it really was. I think that being a really hot day the higher temperature makes the air thinner and so there is just a bit less drive from the wind. Cooler days, or on the sea where the cooler water cools the air, you always seem to find more power in the wind.
So, how do we deal with a shifty wind - the thing is you probably can't be right all the time, but on average you keep seeing the same people pop out at the front because they play the wind shifts better. I have to say that on my performance at the Open perhaps I'm not the right person to describe it but some of the principles are clear. Going upwind we always want to be on the tack that can point closer to the average wind - that is the tack where the last shift lets you point up a bit more. The first thing then is to establish a baseline so that when you come round the mark you know if you are on a lift or a header. If you have a fancy compass you can use that, but the old fashioned way is just to round up before the start and see where you can point. Do the several times before the start and you get a range of headings to see the limits of the shifts. Then when you come round the mark you can see if you are headed or freed. If freed keep going until you get the next header (or until the lay line) if headed, tack almost immediately onto the lifting tack. You will generally see Tom on the water well before the start – often sailing most or all of a lap seeing what the wind is doing. It’s no surprise that he often gets the first beat right...
One tricky part is telling if a shift is just a temporary blip or a real wind shift. That's something that experience helps with. Of course if you are not in the lead and you watch the boats in front you can see what's coming. The next thing is to get used to the pattern of the day. Is the wind oscillating between directions or is it going light between gusts coming from different directions. If the wind suddenly goes light it will feel like a header because your boat is still moving fast into the wind. As you slow down the wind direction may resume. If not then you can tack. Malcolm (I think it was Malcolm) noticed how well the boats near him were tacking - how they seemed to effortlessly switch tacks in the shifts. In that sort of wind you might easily be making more than 10 tacks each beat - someone who makes really good smooth tacks might gain 10 lengths over someone who stops the boat in the tack or who over-rotates. Practice really pays.
Another thing that almost happened to me on Sunday and I saw it happen to others (not just Solos) was rapid shifts that all but left me stuck in irons - that means stuck head to wind. So, how do you most efficiently get out of irons and sailing again. Firstly you ARE allowed to briefly 'row the tiller' to get the boat out of irons, but there are several other things than can really help. First heel the boat slightly to windward, secondly briefly lift a LOT of plate. That lets the hull side slip a bit with only the rudder stopping the side slip so the boat naturally bears away. If you can, also move you weight back a bit - that help stern dig in and the bow blow off a bit. As soon as the sail fills drop the plate again and get sailing being very careful that you keep the boat flat or heeled slightly to windward as the sail fills, at all costs don’t let the sail filling tip the boat or it will just turn straight back upwind.. If you don't use these tricks you will probably start going backwards and have to do a three point turn to get going again (just like turning a car, up into wind, stop start to reverse, reverse lock turn until the sail fills, reverse help again and start to sail away).
Commodores day saw a great sailing and social day. My feeling is that a 90 minute pursuit might be too long and we might be better served with a shorter race or two short races - welcome thoughts for next year. Rob Sumner in his laser won by about 100 yards with Peter Curtis, Gareth and Carl within a few feet of each other in the minor places. The BBQ and Pimms went down a treat.
The Saturday series now switches to two slightly shorter races back to back rather than what has been happening of a long race followed by a significantly later (and generally shorter) second race with few entrants. Hopefully more people will do both races to even out the series a bit more. Well done to Paul for winning the spring Saturday series.
Wed was a decent blow (at least most of the time) with some very strong patches before the start. The trickier part was that mid race the wind dropped with only gusts that were stronger. That meant constantly re-setting everything to keep the boat sailing to its optimum. In general the advice is ‘trim for the lulls’ so you keep maximum speed in the lighter patches, but when you get a sustained gust you need to re-trim for that. In my case this is mainly more (during the gust) Cunningham or ease it in the lulls for more power, traveller out more in the gusts and pull it back up in the lulls – the snag is that you have to keep sailing hard while you make adjustments. Finally as the wind eases and I pull the traveller back to almost central I have to ease the mainsheet slightly and ease the kicker slightly or I am still over flattening the sail. The wind is rarely constant, it is a trade-off between just sailing hard playing the mainsheet in the gusts (while hiking hard feathering the boat up the edge of the wind) and tweaking the strings to improve the sail shape for the conditions. That’s what I love about sailing, there is no simple answer - it’s about trying to find the best compromise most of the time. You can’t (or at least I can’t) play the traveller directly as a gust strikes because it isn’t as quick or as effective as easing the mainsheet, but once you have the boat flat in the gust if you are having to feather too close to the wind to keep the boat flat it is time to put the main in the cleat and ease a bit of traveller. The question is always will I lose more fiddling with the strings or will I gain more by making the change? I’m often tempted to fiddle with the strings looking for the best setting but sometimes I have to tell myself ‘Just sail the **** boat’...
Overhead in the bar after the race several people saying ‘just as I did xxx I was hit by a sudden gust which made me ...’ That had me thinking for this week’s theme. You should NEVER be hit by an unexpected gust. – Watching the water to see the gusts coming must be second nature – it’s like the ‘hazard perception’ when driving your car – you MUST have overall vision watching for what’s coming. I think that’s another reason why you see the top people accelerate in gusts while the back markers heel over and fight the boat. The top teams are not taken by surprise – they are always one step ahead of the boat. Think ahead – watch the water upwind of you (that means glancing behind in the run so you don’t get suddenly gybed or broached by that nasty gust from behind). While you can’t always tell the direction shift of an approaching gust you can and should know it is coming. You have to be simultaneously sailing the boat flat and fast, thinking when to tack or gybe, how do you want to position coming in to the next mark, what’s the wind going to do next, are my sail setting right for the current wind... Never spend too long on any one item. That’s what gets you in trouble. You have to develop reflexes so that you can sail the boat at 95% best speed without thinking about it. Just after the start you probably concentrate 100% on boat speed for that first 50 yards to try and punch through into clear wind, but after that you must switch back into big picture mode.
On the aspect of planning ahead there are times when you can get into an impossible situation quite quickly. In the Open meeting I was running on port tack ahead but to the right of a boat on starboard. Looking at the water I thought there was more wind to the left so I headed up slightly expecting to cross ahead of the starboard tack boat. Unfortunately I was correct – the wind increased slightly from the left side (where he was) and I didn’t abort my manoeuvre immediately. I was then stuck, closing too fast on port not quite able to clear his bow – if I had gybed back at that point I would still have hit him quite hard with my boom and probably my transom as I turned. If I continued I would not quite cross him. Poor planning from my side – I wasn’t thinking ahead enough. In the end I tried to cross him but he had to alter course to miss me so I did my 720. Sometimes you have to start taking avoiding action a lot sooner than you might think. (The only good news is that I was right about where the wind was filling in so after doing the 720 I was on the favoured side of the leg and I overtook him again before the next mark). Sail hard, but if it all goes horribly wrong just do your penalty and move on. We all make mistakes – I think Paul Elvstrom (Famous Danish sailor who invented the modern self bailer) said – winning is about making fewer mistakes than the person behind you.
The Wed evening series is turning into one of the closest series we’ve ever had. Who says the handicaps aren’t pretty effective - the top three are in three different classes are on 8.8, 8.9, and 9.0 points (the fractions come from the average points from being on duty). With Debbie’s fresh cooked hot food Wed evening is a great time to sail – be quick though because there are only a few weeds left!
Next Tuesday for the TRY-SAIL Malcolm is arranging a ‘Try Solo and Laser’ evening – the idea is to show what ‘real’ Solo or Lasers are like compared to the rather more basic club boats. If we could have a few boats available for people to try that would be wonderful. Malcolm and I will obviously be there if we can have a few more for people to try that would be wonderful. If you can let us know that would be great. Last year we added three new Solo sailors to the fleet from Tuesdays. If we can do that every year we can grow out numbers back to where they should be.
Thanks to everyone who filled in the club questionnaire.